Michael Jackson is forever the King of Pop. Jackson would’ve turned 59 years old today (Aug. 29).
As lead singer of the Jackson 5, Michael was clearly the charmer who had star potential. His early Motown solo releases were hits, but as the group’s relationship with the label soured, they sought refuge elsewhere. They eventually signed with CBS/Epic, where they were given creative control. After a few lackluster releases, the quintet (now simply “The Jacksons”) found their own sound in the late 70s with their hit album Destiny.
But Jackson was itching to reignite his solo career; and he teamed up with Quincy Jones for Off The Wall, his breakthrough.
Then Thriller happened. This was where Jackson’s creative ambitions and unmatched showmanship coagulated for the near-mythic figure he became regarded as. He made listeners dance to African groove lines (“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”) and awe as he moonwalked across the bass riff of “Billie Jean.” Jackson wanted you to dance. And fans obeyed; Thriller will likely remain as the highest selling album ever.
His 1987 album Bad was still another commercial achievement and was accompanied by Jackson’s first solo tour, a monumental success. However, a growing tabloid fixation on his personal life led to a shift in Jackson’s music–apparent in the album’s closing bonus track, “Leave Me Alone.” Jackson would continuously shake his fists at the tabloids that slandered him. In 1991, Jackson teamed with superproducer Teddy Riley for yet another commercial smash in Dangerous.
By the mid-1990s, MJ’s image had taken a hit due to legal troubles and child molestation allegations in 1993, followed by a quickie marriage to Lisa Marie Presley in 1995. Nonetheless, he would release HIStory that year, an album that was draped in controversy and somehow still managed to sell a whopping seven million copies.
Over the next decade, Jackson’s personal life and scandals would dominate headlines as his musical output waned, but he returned with what would be his final studio album, Invincible, in 2001. The album’s release would be overshadowed by Jackson’s legal battles with Sony head Tommy Mottola. Invincible would go on to sell 2 million copies in the U.S.
Michael Jackson’s joy became more intermittent as he openly wrestled with tabloid and childhood damage on record. Another child molestation scandal and trial in 2005 led to the singer eventually moving to Bahrain for a time and closing his famous Neverland Ranch home after his acquittal. In March 2009, Jackson held a press conference at London’s O2 Arena to announce a series of comeback concerts titled This Is It.
But on June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication at his home.
MJ’s legacy is undeniable. There isn’t a more globally iconic pop artist in history and there isn’t an artist more influential today’s pop landscape. His music and art lives on and always will.